Emotional regulation is at the core of many therapeutic approaches. People who receive treatment for mood issues often undergo some form of emotional regulation development. Anxiety and depression are two conditions that are dramatically affected by emotional dysregulation.
Research has shown that the better someone is at regulating their emotional experiences, the better chance they have of reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood issues. But how does emotional regulation actually work? To answer this question, Madeline Lee Pe of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at KU Leuven in Belgium decided to conduct two studies examining the effects of updating. Specifically, she focused on how updating of emotional experiences in working memory (WM) affected emotional regulation.
Pe looked at rumination and reappraisal, two behaviors at the core of mood issues and emotional regulation. She found that participants who were highly skilled at updating emotional experiences were better at reappraising negative emotions than those with limited updating abilities. Further, the participants with strong updating abilities were also able to limit their negative rumination experiences to a greater extent than those with impaired emotional updating skills. These findings emerged for both trait mood states, as well as when Pe assessed moods and emotional regulation in daily life.
In sum, these findings provide a unique look into the mechanisms underlying emotional regulation. This new evidence could be beneficial for the advancement of therapeutic approaches aimed at reappraisal and rumination. Pe said, “These results identify the ability to update emotional information in working memory as a crucial process modulating the efficacy of emotion regulation efforts.”
For individuals who struggle with negative thoughts and find themselves unable to move past negative emotions, exercises aimed at strengthening emotional updating could prove beneficial. Although these findings are promising and present a new avenue of treatment and research, this topic should be explored more deeply to determine what other factors might contribute to impaired emotional updating for people living with mood issues.
Pe, M.L., Raes, F., Kuppens, P. (2013). The cognitive building blocks of emotion regulation: Ability to update working memory moderates the efficacy of rumination and reappraisal on emotion. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69071. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069071
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